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Reviews

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Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa, by Ishay Govender-Ypma. Published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.

 

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An important culinary addition to our indigenous literature was celebrated with the launch of this impressive hardback, its gold design and lettering on the front cover adding decorative gravitas to the contents within. The endpapers inspire with little bowls of spices, pounded and powdered, to be mixed into the aromatic collection that will flavour the veggies, meat, fish and  poultry that simmer in a variety of pots across our country.

Journalist Ishay added a note to reviewers that arrived with the book, telling us of the fulfilling year she spent travelling to towns and townships, cities and farms across South Africa in search of every version of curry that is served up by our diverse communities. She enjoyed great hospitality, entered into an exploration of our past, and unearthed an extraordinary collection of stories and recipes to present to readers in this treasury. As is increasingly becoming common with current South African cookbooks, the stories often centre around hardship – from poverty and more often about suffering under apartheid laws, homes lost under the Group Areas act even as family cooks continued to make food, stretching ingredients, and keeping treats for special occasions.

Close to 90 recipes share the pages between the fascinating story of curry, related by cooks and experts, in every corner of the country. Crab curry from KwaZulu-Natal,. Cape Malay chicken curry, curried offal  from the Northern Cape, beef from Gauteng townships. You will find Karoo venison curries, lamb for the kerkbasaar, and curries featuring vegetables and fruits that are worth contemplating – and not only by vegetarians.

We follow Ishay’s journey through all nine provinces of South Africa. Indian home cooks predominate, unsurprisingly, in every region except for the Western  Cape where we find residents who specialise in Cape Malay cuisine, well-known cook and author Sydda Essop, weskus family cook Lenora Farmer from Paternoster, renowned spice guru Cass Abrahams, Afrikaans creative cook Inez Espost and an English-speaking restaurateur in Knysna who presents the only Thai curry in the book – the final recipe! Also featured is Emily van Sitters of Franschhoek who  I met when collecting recipes for a Cape cookbook way back when. She shared her recipe for seafood masala bobotie, still the finest bobotie dish ever  tasted.

The many black cooks, mostly women, use fewer spices in their curries, although some, like Lisbeth Mametja, of North Sotho origin, living in Hoedspruit, cooks a mean Indian curry thanks to working at game lodge with a chef from  Mumbai. Along with mutton, lamb and many chicken curries, there is a fine selection of meat-free recipes, where veggies, fruit,  pulses, soya, nuts and paneer star, along with  some interesting seafood curries. The recipes conclude with a selection of side dishes to complement curries, including roti, samp, sambals,pickles and atchars.-

This compilation is  set to become a South African classic, and one which even novice cooks can buy knowing that the recipes were all re-tested by Ishay’s husband to make sure they would be in safe hands when trying out a new dish. Now there’s dedication worth acknowledging!

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A BITE OF LATIN AMERICA by Susie Chatz-Anderson. Published by Human& Rousseau, Cape Town, 2017.

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A collection delectable in every aspect, and one that fills a gap in culinary literature as well. There has been little in the way of comprehensive cookbooks covering Latin America on our bookshop shelves for years, and none, as far as I know, written by a local..

Now we have Susie’s delightful gastronimic diary , a very readable account of the year she and husband  Mike spent travelling through Mexico and South America, in a quest for the best taste trips. Or rather that’s what she wanted, while he  spent the time hunting down the best kite-surfing sites.

They resigned their office jobs, stored their possessions and bought two air tickets, waving goodbye to Susie’s mother who, we are told, feared for her daughter’s life every day!

In choosing Latin America, they embraced cuisines where Maya, Aztec, Inca, Spanish and Portuguese contributions mix and meld, followed by more recent influence from Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Europe.

Mexico was the first destination, and a good choice seeing that their fare is rated as one of the finest peasant cuisines in the world. They found more meat in the north, seafood at the coast, spicy vegetable and chicken in the south.  Favourite Mexican meals were breakfasts, which included rice, beans and avocado with their morning eggs. Her chorizo omelette is a dish that’s perfect for a winter brunch, and tortilla-wrapped fish with salsas is  an appetising informal lunch suggestion. Gorditas – corn pockets with saucy fillings – make a great alternative to pitas,  add some Margaritas and you have an easy way to feed guests.

They headed south to, Guatemala,  a country whose cuisine is not well-pubicised. Plantains, rice and beans and salads are featured, while Nicaraguan more pork chops -  well laced with rum and finished with cream and green peppercorns  - are starred along with a saucy chicken pie that looks worth a try. I also like the Atolillo, described as a chilled rum custard, and it reminds me of melktert filling garnished with boozy sultanas.

More rice with beans, this time cooked in coconut milk, from Costa Rica and a similar version, without the beans, sweetened  and spiked, for dessert. From Columbia, chilli salsas,  Spanish-style omelettes and green apple and mint lemonade. On to Ecuador, where our adventurous couple savoured prawns ceviche and a potato and peanut stew with tofu and discovered countless varieties of Andean potatoes.

The author’s description of places and people in Peru are fascinating, the cuisine – indigenous dishes of Inca origin touched by Spanish influence, equally so. Her version of Causa  Limena illustrates this well – Peruvian potato, avocado, tomato and tuna layered stack – and makes a summery lunch.  For wintry days, their vegetable and quinoa soup  makes a colourful and nutritious meal. Husband  Mike’s favourite dish was Peru’s signature beef stir-fry, Lomo Saltado.

By way of contrast, the sophistication and diversity of Brazil’s fare was absorbed and relished  with delight. Recipes include cheese bites,prawn pie,upside-down banana cake (a breakfast special)  and Caipirinha, the  country’s signature cocktail.

From their final destination, Argentina,  Susie brought home recipes for Empanadas (beef and onion pies), a leek, sage and bacon bake, layered vegetable  tart,  the famous Chimichurri salsa and the Argentinian version of Dulce de Leche, caramel which is used in cakes, puds and cookies such as Alfajores, recipe given. The recipes finish with some good coffees, followed by a detailed index. Susie’s great travel photos add much interest, while the food shots are sumptuous, and beautifully styled.

What’s really appealing is the way the author suggests substitutes for exotic ingredients and alternatives and additions to the original dishes. Just the sort of helpful advice that every cook, beginner and experienced, appreciates. That and a down-to-earth modesty, an attractive trait that is by no means guaranteed in current cookbook-cum-diaries.

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THE GREAT SOUTH AFRICAN COOKBOOK, published by Quivertree Publications, Cape Town, 2016.

 

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Less than a fortnight to Mandela Day 2017, when South Africans, both individuals and teams from institutions, companies and a myriad organisations, will give up 67 minutes, or a  day, a week or more to do good in their communities and help alleviate poverty in some way.

 

 This handsome hardback was published last year, elicitng great  reviews for all those involved in its production. On  the final  page, number 372, an announcement in small print states that the Nelson Mandela Foundation  “will receive all royalties from sales... to develop and support community food and agricultural projects to aid in the upliftment of the impoverished through food sustainability and empowerment.”

 

Now, as July approaches, it’s a good time to remind potential purchasers about this generous gesture – anyone looking for a comprehensive cookbook that presents a treasury of recipes for fare found in the kitchens of our diverse communities could hardly do better than snap up  this culinary compendium. Add to that the feel- good, do -good  aspect of your purchase, and you may want to buy an extra copy for someone special in your life.

 

First, a little about the book production: As one expects from Quivertree, this is a great book to hold and admire, from its innovative and trendy  cover to Toby Murphy’s delightful photographs on the endpapers.  Plenty more wonderful images  of food and cooks throughout the book, taken in food gardens, fishing boats,on farms, in kitchens, restaurants and homes. And, almost without exception, every personality looks as cheerful as can be, which is pretty inspiring! There’s a glossary of terms used, a detailed index which precedes a second one, arranged by categories like baking , dressings, gluten- free and main courses, and a list of contributors. Several sponsors are also thanked.

 

The contributors of recipes  are, to quote the cover “...our finest cooks, chefs, bakers, farmers, foragers and local food heroes.” They also represent an intriguing mix of entrepreneurs from every corner of the land, each with their own  story and culinary specialities. Many hail from the Western Cape and Gauteng is also prominently in the picture, but after that the locations thin out to a few from KwaZulu-Natal, just two from the Free State and a few from the Eastern Cape. A lone cook from the Northern Cape shares this status with one from Limpopo province, while the North-West and Mpumalanga are not ignored. Down south the Garden Route features, but the Overberg is practically bypassed , which, given the gastronomic talent in the Elgin and Stanford areas, is surprising.

 

 The recipes cover the basic fare and classics of the major South African cultural groups, and there is a strong emphasis on greens and fresh produce, raw ingredients, and foraging, which is both trendy and health-giving.

An unexpected shortage of soups – just three – when you consider how many of us regard sustaining vegetable and meat soups, thickened with pulses, as essential survival fare. At the other end of the menu,  just one ice-cream makes the grade: admittedly a delicious recipe from brilliant chef Franck Dangereux, but again, South Africans regard ice-cream , preferably homemade, as a given during the hot months, whether inland or along our coasts.

Turning to main courses, it seems a pity that no ostrich dish is included, a meat so important to the Little Karoo farmers and townsfolk. The inspiring local and seasonal fare from the plains of Camdeboo in the Great Karoo should have a place in this book – but then, perhaps they were approached, one doesn’t know. Or maybe it was simply a case of space running out - the line had to be drawn somewhere!

 

 But with 360 pages of appetising, colourful, diverse gastronomical temptations, there is more than enough to digest and try out to keep keen cooks and bakers busy for years. This is by far the most comprehensive South African culinary title ever published, and for this reason alone, is a cookbook everybody who has an interest in food, should possess.

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MASTERCHEF STREET FOOD OF THE WORLD by Genevieve Taylor. Published by Absolute Press of Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2017.

 

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This is a hefty hardback, its front cover presenting a mélange of dishes filled with fare both exotic and everyday: skewers of fiery offal share space with strawberry-topped waffles and cream,a  fried egg tops a plate of Danish leftovers alongside all-American picnic sarmies.

The very title intrigues, and food writer Taylor has added prestige to what is pleb cuisine  by getting  MasterChef champions from France, Denmark, Australia, USA, the Far East and the UK to add their touch to the recipes. As the back cover states, millions around the globe relish street food every day, so a compendium of these  recipes from all corners of the planet amounts to a treasury for adventurous home cooks to explore.

With the current vogue of food trucks in towns and cities dishing out portable street eats, along with night markets and food festivals proliferating across the globe, this sociable cuisine is trending, and it seems unlikely that such a  relaxed informal way of eating will go out of fashion soon, if ever.

Street food is hardly new, and can be traced back to ancient Rome and medieval London, among other cities. Today’s street and market  cuisines are usually characterised by a kaleidoscope of colour, flavour, aromas and taste sensations. As the author suggests, this collection of recipes enables every cook to bring a sense of wanderlust to their home kitchens.

Chapters focus on continents, opening with The Americas, followed by Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Indian subcontinent precedes a section on Asia and Australia.  While western classics like beef burgers, fish and chips are included in the line-up, it’s the exotic items from the Middle and Far East and north Africa that first attracted me, along with those from the Caribbean and Central  and  South America.

Tasty bites from  Louisiana sandwich shops start the American ball rolling, then it’s off to the islands, with Jamaican Jerk chicken and Trini Doubles from Trinidad (chickpea curry sandwiched between naan bread). Mexico offers up chicken and sweetcorn quesadillas with guacamole, tamales with pulled pork and chilli sauce and a tempting sorbet of tequila, mango and lime to make in summer. Heading south, there’s ceviche from Peru, arepas with queso blanco and guasacaca from Venezuela, which translates into little cornmeal cakes stuffed full of homemade cheese and accompanied by  robustly flavoured avocado- based sauce . Argentinian short ribs with chimichurri sauce already appears on local braai menues, its followed here by dulce de leche icecream.

British favourites include Cornish pasties and a variation on Scotch eggs, while France whips up niçoise wraps and crepes banoffee. Flamkuchen and kartoffelpuffer from Germany are followed by an appetising-looking leftover Danish classic, called Biksemad. There are also street specials from Finland, Poland, Bosnia and the Czech republic before the masterchefs look south to Greece, settling on souvlaki pitas with tzatsiki and tiropita. Arancini with Gorgonzola,  polpette, verduri fritti and gnocco fritto make the Italian selection while the sweet offering from Spain is churros and chocolate sauce.

Delectable bites from Turkey include gozleme with spinach,feta and pinenuts, balik ekmek, midye dolma and simit, all of which translates into stuffed flatbreads, a mackerel sandwich, stuffed mussels and something similar to a bagel, topped with sesame seeds. Equally tempting snacks from Israel, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco follow, making this a chapter I would turn to often. The chefs then head south down the African continent, stopping in Ghana  ,Nigeria and Ethopia.

We have long savoured a street foods in South Africa,emanating from a variety of cultural traditions: Our country’s diversity  is represented with recipes for the Gatsby, bunny chow, masala pineapples and melktert. Mauritius also makes the cut with a dhall puri with butterbean curry.

And so, to India with Pakistan and Sri Lanka as add-ons. Expect kebabs and samosas, tikki with date and tamarind chutney, egg bhurji with parathas, kati rolls, masala dosa, chicken 65 and  cooling mango and cardamom kulfi lollies. I like the look of of Sri Lankan turmeric fried eggs with curry sauce - think it  could prove a meat-free sensation and will try it out soon...

Further east now, to sample Chinese tea eggs and char siu bao, on to Korea for mixed vegetable kimbap with gochugaru  dipping sauce, then daintier fare from Japan such as Yakitori chicken skewers and daigaku imo. Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam present a fragrant and vibrant mix of flavours while Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia serve up street fare that is familiar to most of us like satés and sambals, prawn curry laksa, and sate ayam with peanut sauce. What can we expect from Australia? I would not have guessed correctly, but its a trio that starts with fried prawns with citrus salt and sriracha  mayo, chiko rolls and steak and onion pie – perhaps they taste wonderful, but this was the only menu that disappointed on reading it. I expected something more exciting from Down Under and that included at least a couple of their indigenous ingredients or Aussie creations that combine native with input from oriental, Greek and Italian immigrants.

Many local cooks will embrace this treasury,  in search of vibrant new flavours or to recall those enjoyed in street markets in far-off lands. To mimic a former radio ad for a popular local white wine, these dishes are made for family and friends, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing occasions. I could not think of a better birthday or Christmas present for friends who like roaming the gastronomic world in their home kitchens. For one, I am thrilled to possess this gem.

 

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Emily Hobhouse: Beloved Traitor by Elsabe Brits, published by Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2016.

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That this masterful life story is set to become the definitive biography of one of South Africa’s most famous women is not in doubt. Brits has produced an in-depth, scholarly, well-researched work that is also very readable, enlivened with numerous fascinating photographs.  The 27 pages of endnotes, bibliography, index and acknowledgements are good indications of the lengths to which she went to, to do justice to the life and work of this extraordinary pacifist, feminist and deeply compassionate person – who died alone and unsung in her home country.

As the back cover tell us, Brits retraced Hobhouse’s footsteps across three continents, but, as she is the first to acknowledge, it was her exciting discovery of Emily’s great-niece that was the cherry on the top:  Jennifer  Hobhouse Balme invited the author into her home in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island  and shared her treasury of documents, diaries, scrapbooks, letters and photographs, enabling this biography to far transcend any previous attempt to record her life.

Born in 1860 into a Victorian upper-class family Emily grew up in the hamlet of St Ive in Somerset, where she and her sisters were educated at home, which she found frustrating. Her first visit abroad took her to the USA where she experienced love, was jilted by her fiancé, and was back in England in 1899. This was the year the Anglo-Boer War broke out, and Emily became involved in  the SA Conciliation Committee in London, which opposed the war.

 After the OFS and the Transvaal were annexed by Britain thhe Boer forces resorted to guerrilla warfare. The scorched-earth policy instigated by Britain saw farmhouses, barns and outbuildings burnt, farm animals slaughtered, veld set alight, and in some cases whole towns destroyed.  In London and Cornwall  Emily protested in vain about the policy then decided to go to SA to help: she  and started fund-raising to feed clothe and rescue women and children rendered destitute by the war.  Arriving in Cape Town in Dec 1900  she met the governor Lord Milner the governor who granted  permission to visit the concentratios/refugee camps where Boer women were kept provided Kitchener agree, which he did, with conditions. After shopping for clothes, blankets and food she travelled north  in January 1901.

What she found was more distressing than she had imagined – “...truckloads of women and children unsheltered and... flocks and herds of frightened animals bellowing and baaing for food and drink... In the camps exposure, starvation, illness, pain – no candle or, soap, no mortuary tent, flies thick on everything, no schooling, no wood or coal to boil water and typhoid  rife.  She kept diaries, recorded women’s stories, saw children dying as she travelled from camp to camp. She sent letters to friends, family members  and government sources in England  reporting on conditions. She took photographs and sent those as well, decided to retrun to the UK  to bring the horrors of the concentration camps to the British public.

She endured much resentment from Britons who regarded here as unpatriotic at best, a traitor at worst. In turn she pointed out that in September 1901 the number of people in the white camps had risen from 85 000 to 105 000,  that 1878 had died in August,  1545 of whom were children. When she returned to Cape Town in October she was ill and weak, but was arrested by the British on arrival. Detained on board, she was returned to England in a troop ship.

But her efforts  had some effect as conditions gradually improved, at least  in the white camps. Peace was declared  in May 1902 –the  news reached her as she sat alone in France writing her book, whereupon  she “started crying uncontrollably.”

Back in SA Emily visited the former camp sites where locals told her that they had not received any of the ‘reconstruction money of three million pounds’ that was supposed to be apportioned to the Boers. In communication with General Jan Smuts she travelled widely, reporting to the UK regularly on conditions. She then set in motion her ploughing project: newspaper appeals for funds to buy oxen and donkeys were well received, and not only Cape colonists but British donors sent funds to the bank in Pretoria.

Her plans for establishing home industries  revolved around teaching young girls spinning and weaving and  the first school opened in Philippolis in March 1905 using wool donated by farmers.  Soon there were two schools and proceeds helped many survive.

Back in the UK Emily  (predictably) got involved with the suffrage movement, yet stayed in constant touch with South Africa, where a committee was formed to erect a monument to Boer women and children in Bloemfontein. Her health did not allow her to attend the unveiling on December  16 1913, but her speech was read both in English and Afrikaans.

World War 1 saw Emily trying to alleviate the living conditions of civilians in Germany  and Belgium and of Britons interned in German camps. She was  regarded by many as a propagandist, spy and a traitor. Undeterred, 1918 saw Emily co-founding the Swiss Relief Fund for Starving Children, as children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia nad Hungary were sent to Switzerland to regain their health.   South Africa helped fund Emily ‘s purchase of a cottage in St Ives, Cornwall, in 1921. She died in London in June 1926, still hoping for justice to prevail with regard to her work . Her ashes were sent to Bloemfontein and here she was revered  with a funeral service attended by hundred,s with thousands lining the streets at the first and, to date only, state funeral in this country for a foreigner.

My only criticism is that the book design, while attractive and contemporary, is impractical as the use of bold colour backgrounds on many pages render the print virtually illegible.  

 

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